The fireplace blazed light and warmth into the living room, and the tree was, at last, almost finished. Having Richard, Lana, Lois, and Clark all under the same roof, plus the twins, had resulted in a couple of awkward moments, but nothing too serious. Humor and camaraderie prevailed over any lingering jealousy, in spite of the fact that this had so recently been home to Richard and Lois while they were engaged. Jason and Kala were oblivious to any discomfort felt by the adults, swept up in the delight of the brand-new tree and the hanging of ornaments.
“An’ Mrs. Mosley says we’re gonna make our own ornaments this week,” Kala said excitedly, as Richard picked her up to reach a higher branch. “So we gotta save room.”
“Oh, I think we’ve got room,” Clark told her, levitating a few inches to adjust the star on top of the tree. “Is it still crooked?”
Lana took a couple of steps backward to see the entire tree. She was trying to be as casual about Clark’s superpowers as he was, but it wasn’t easy. Her high school chum could fly… “Hmm. Looks a bit too far to the left, now, but it could be me. Lois, second opinion?”
Lois brought six mugs of hot apple cider into the living room, pausing to examine the tree critically. “It’s straight enough for me,” she declared, and set the tray of drinks down on the coffee table. The twins hung up the ornaments they held and ran for the table, both of them picking a cup of this treat up. “It’s still hot, you two. Blow on it before you take a sip,“ she warned. Both of them obediently did so.
“All right, then,” Richard said, rumpling Kala’s hair. “I think we’re done for now.” He chose not to bring up the discrepancy between Lois’ insistence on buying the perfect tree and her willingness to accept crooked ornaments. They’d done enough affectionate bickering for a while. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but my brain is still on Italian time and telling me I should be in bed.”
“I’ll second that,” Lana said. “Lois, you’re sure you’re all right with us having the twins overnight?”
“Are you sure you’re ready to have them?” Lois asked her in response, raising an eyebrow. She stared at her son, who noticed her eyes on him and beamed. Lois gave a soft snort of amusement. “These two are like lion cubs. They look cute right now, but after a while you’ll see they’re a handful.”
Lana looked over at Clark and grinned. “You know them better than I do – are they worse than the Wilson boys?”
Clark groaned. “Oh, God. No one could be worse than the Wilson brothers! They used tie cans to cows’ tails. One time they did that to Henderson’s Angus bull, and he broke down four fences! And they threw cherry bombs down the school toilets…”
“Whoa,” Lois said. “I thought that was an urban legend. You people actually do this stuff?”
“Oh, yes,” Lana replied, shaking her head at the memory. “Shut down the school for a day because they blew up the water main. And they did that in grade school. When I had the misfortune to baby-sit them. I’d quit looking after them by the infamous cooking sherry incident when they were thirteen.”
“Cooking sherry?” Richard asked, worriedly.
Clark filled him in, wincing at the memory. “The Wilson boys got drunk on it one Halloween – I think it was our senior year, Lana? Anyway, they had the brilliant idea to go out to this one hill by the side of County Road 210 where it goes around a curve. They piled up a couple of bales of hay they found in the field nearby, lit the stack on fire, and pushed it in front of a car coming down the road.”
“Which happened to be the sheriff’s wife,” Lana supplied with a grin. “She wasn’t hurt, but she chased those two boys back across the Roys’ field. Called their mother that night, too, and she was waiting for them with their daddy’s belt when they finally got home.”
“Those were a couple of monsters,” Clark said. “No, the twins are nowhere near that bad. Are you?”
At his sudden question, Jason and Kala stood up straight, trying to look innocent in spite of wondering just what a cherry bomb was. Lois chuckled dryly, “All right, you’re qualified. Bedtime’s at nine because it’s Saturday, and no snacks after dinner. Don’t let them – or the charming devil looking at me like I’m nuts – tell you any different.”
“Ah, now we know who spoils them,” Lana said, smiling at Richard.
“Hey, I know the rules; I even made some of them,” he defended himself. “But then again, rules were made to be broken. Anyway, how are we going to work this? The Audi seats five, barely. Lois, it’d be easier if you’d…”
“No, you cannot borrow my car,” Lois cut him off abruptly. “Out of the question. Forget it. It’s not happening, Richard.”
Richard sighed exaggeratedly, and looked over at Clark. “You know, we could solve this pretty quickly if you wouldn’t mind picking up my car from the garage… And I mean picking it up.”
Clark’s disbelieving expression was priceless. “Richard, I don’t use my powers frivolously.”
“And adjusting the star on the tree was world-shatteringly crucial?” Richard asked, genuinely not understanding.
“Yes, well, someone would notice Superman flying around carrying a car,” Clark reasoned.
“I thought you could fly faster than satellites can track,” Richard said.
“Yes, but at those speeds your car might get dented by the air pressure.”
“Never mind,” was Richard’s instant reply. Then he blinked and shook himself slightly. “Man, what a head trip. I hope you realize it’s wrecking my mind to think that you – Kent, the guy I went to Mexico with, the only man on earth who’s ever locked himself in the same men’s room twice in one day – are who you are. With all the powers.”
“The guy who caught bullets aimed for you in Mexico,” Clark told him.
“Didja faint that time, too?” Lois snorted in amusement. Her sparkling eyes met his and they shared a grin.
“You caught bullets? Like real bullets?” Jason asked, wide-eyed. “Wow… Can we do that?”
“Not yet,” Clark said, turning his smile on his son.
“Not ever,” Lois added, giving both twins and their father a dubious look.
Richard glanced back and forth between them. “Why do I get this feeling I’m missing an in-joke?”
“The first day I met Lois, we got mugged in an alley,” Clark informed him. “She wouldn’t hand over her purse – she dropped it, and when the guy bent to get it, she kicked him in the face.”
Richard burst into laughter. “Woman, you are crazy!”
Lois just rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, the newbie superhero here grabbed the bullet faster than I could see, and pretended to faint while the mugger ran like hell. And then he scolded me for risking my life over the exact contents of my purse. The only reason I didn’t catch on that quick was because Superman hadn’t made his public debut. Wouldn’t for another couple of days afterwards. Hello, x-ray vision, anyone?”
Chuckling, Richard grinned at Clark. “Now, if I you could loan out any of your powers for a day, that would be the one I’d choose.”
“No,” Lana said archly.
“You’re a pervert, Richard,” Lois said bluntly in almost the same moment.
“No, I’m not,” he argued. “I’m a guy. C’mon, Clark, back me up. Don’t tell me you never used that power for selfish purposes.”
The look on the horrified hero’s face was priceless. “Absolutely not,” Clark said indignantly.
“You did once,” Lois retorted almost smugly. At his incredulous look, she crossed her arms. “I have one word for you, mister. Planter.”
Clark blushed, but replied, “You asked.”
“Whoa,” Richard said. “Fill us in on the backstory, please.” At the look on Lois’ face, he added, “Kids, why don’t you head upstairs and pick out your clothes for tomorrow?”
“Daddy,” they whined, but were so excited about this little ‘night out’ that they went obediently.
“Okay, so I assume you remember that interview, right?” Lois said with a sigh, hiding a smile. “The first one?”
“I Spent the Night with Superman. Yeah, who could forget it? It’s framed and hanging on the wall right by the elevators at work,” Richard said in a touch of sarcasm.
Clark stepped in to continue the story. “I’d mentioned that I could see through most things, and Lois asked me what color underwear she was wearing.” He had to pause while Richard guffawed and Lois blushed slightly. “Unfortunately, she was standing behind a lead planter.”
“Yes, well, the moment I walked away from it while I was trying to get my brain under control to ask you what your name was, you freakin’ answered me about the underwear,” Lois grumbled. “For about twenty seconds I wondered who the hell would name their kid ‘pink’.”
“I don’t know what boggles my mind more,” Richard said. “Lois asking a superhero what color underwear she was wearing, or Lois wearing pink underwear.”
“Shut up,” Lois growled. How did she always wind up coming out of these stories looking like a love-struck moron?
Clark chuckled as he added, “Or Lois the fearless commitment-hating reporter asking me if I was married. For what, the second question?”
Lois paled, looking absolutely shocked and mortified. Oh my God, I can’t believe he brought that up! Kal-El! Richard just raised his eyebrows. “That never made it into the article.”
“Yes, well, a lot of stuff got left out,” Lois snapped, knowing her cheeks were burning. “Including the comment that you didn’t have a girlfriend, but if you did I’d be the first to know. I wasn’t the only one flirting. Thanks, Kal-El, for reminding everyone how flighty I was back then.” She switched her narrow-eyed glare to Richard before adding, “As for you, Mr. White, you are so riding in the back of the Audi.”
“You weren’t flighty, you were just impressed,” Lana opined. “Which anyone would be, I imagine. What’s important is that it took a superhero to impress you, Lois.”
“Exactly,” Lois said, salvaging her pride. “Thank God someone’s on my side. How weird that it’s the one-time potential rival…”
“Lois, if we fought over a man, it would be an epic battle worth immortalizing in print and on film,” Lana chuckled. “Fortunately for everyone, it all worked out right in the end.”
“Amen to that,” Lois replied, grinning. “It would suck for you to have to get your butt kicked the way you would if we’d decided to fight.”
Lana actually gave an unladylike snort of laughter. “You think you’d win?”
Lois crossed her arms and looked at Lana appraisingly. Oh, trust me, I know I would. “Cheerleader, you’d go down like dot-com stocks in 2000.”
Watching in amusement, Richard said in mock-serious tones, “Ladies, you mustn’t quarrel. This is the season of peace, remember.”
“Says the man who was bickering with his ex all day like he thought he was auditioning for a sitcom,” Lana replied smoothly.
Before Richard could do more than laugh at her remark, the twins came barreling downstairs. “Jason’s gonna wear green,” Kala announced disgustedly, herself dressed entirely in red. “Again.”
“Can I bring Gazeera?” her brother asked as he followed her into the room.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, the hotel doesn’t allow pets,” Lana told him. “I’m surprised they’re letting me bring Richard.”
“All right, kids,” Lois said, smirking at Lana for the underhanded comment. “Richard, let’s get these guys packed up, and I’ll chauffeur you all over to the hotel. Kala, Jason – behave. I’m serious. This is a seriously fancy hotel.”
“We’ll be good; we know how to act in grown-up places…” Jason began, and then hushed himself abruptly at a glare from Kala. Clark just winced; would they be able to keep that trip to the jewelry store a secret, after all? Fortunately, everyone was too caught up in the logistics of getting Richard and Lana and the twins to the hotel to notice Jason’s slip, and Clark breathed a sigh of relief. For now.
Lois was looking forward to an evening alone with Kal-El; Jason and Kala had been very affectionate with both parents during the last week, effectively becoming a cuddly barrier to any adult affection. Now, though, with Richard and Lana watching the twins, perhaps she could get some quality time with her favorite headline…
The moment she opened the door, the scent of something savory captured her attention. It smelled like… “Hamburgers?” Lois burst out laughing.
“They were in the ‘fridge,” Clark replied innocently, coming out of the kitchen with a plate for Lois. “And pierogies on the side – these are pretty good, actually, but you should really try some homemade.”
Lois gave him a slightly odd look, then remembered. Of course he knows what a pierogie is – he’s all over the world. “Thanks, love. I was getting hungry. But you do realize our first date was to a burger place. Our date in Smallville was a diner that served great burgers. And now you’re cooking me burgers. This is becoming a theme.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make soufflé next time,” he replied, kissing her forehead.
Lois tilted her head up, catching his lips for a quick kiss. Giving him a flirtatious little grin, she took the plate and headed for the living room, curling up on the couch to eat. Clark joined her, bringing his own plate, and chuckled at Lois having to pull her legs out of his way. Surprisingly for someone her height, she could completely take over the sofa with just her legs.
It was still strange for both of them to do something as normal as have dinner together while watching the news. When Cat Grant covered the landslide Superman had stopped that morning, Lois shook her head slightly. She couldn’t resist a snarky grin. “You forgot your coat, huh?”
“I actually did forget my coat,” Clark told her, taking a bite of his hamburger. He waited until after he’d swallowed it to add, “It turned out to be a convenient bit of forgetfulness, though.”
The rest of the meal was livened by conversation about all of the little ways he managed to get away when people needed him. Getting locked in or locked out was a favorite, shortly followed by ‘accidentally’ leaving personal belongings somewhere. Clark had made quite an art of the quick escape over the years, and Lois couldn’t help laughing every time she remembered something else he’d done years ago that sounded so goofy then, and was actually merely a cover for his heroics.
By the time they finished eating, Lois was in a very affectionate mood. The moment Clark returned from putting the dishes away she slid over into his lap and rested her head on his shoulder. Nestled together in the corner of the couch, they didn’t need to speak, simply enjoying the closeness. Clark started running his fingers through her hair, and Lois sighed, her eyes slipping closed. That was so very comforting…
Until he stopped, and she could feel the sudden tension in his body. Lois sat up slightly, looking at him. “I have to go,” Clark said regretfully.
Of course. The ‘other woman’ beckons… Reminding herself of the choice she had made, she only smiled at him. “Just when I was getting comfortable,” Lois mock-threatened, but she slipped out of his arms willingly. “Go on, then. But you’d better hurry back. This is our first evening alone in a while, you know. And for a while, too.”
He kissed her once, but she could tell his mind was elsewhere. “I love you. I’ll be back.” Then just that quickly, Clark was gone out the back door.
She stood up and walked out onto the porch, forgetting the cold and the snow as she looked up at the starry sky with a proud smile. “That’s the problem with Men of Steel,” Lois muttered softly, knowing he’d get the joke. “There’s never one around when you want one.”
King Kong was playing on the classic movies channel, and the twins settled in to watch it with Richard on the couch in the suite’s living room. Lana had to take a few minutes for business; Kay gave Richard and the kids a fond glance while she waited for Lana to finish signing paperwork.
The redhead signed the last check and looked at her assistant. “Penny for your thoughts?”
“You get all the luck,” Kay said quietly, then grinned. “The kids are even cuter than he is.” Jason and Kala had, as usual, managed to charm her the moment they met. The twins had been wide-eyed with wonder at the huge tree in the hotel lobby and the evergreen garlands woven around every railing.
“I’ll agree with that,” Lana chuckled. “They are adorable. All three of them.”
“Yeah, well, trust you to get the boy-toy with the cool accessories,” Kay teased. “Anyway, I’ve got a friend in Metropolis who’s complaining about not having seen me in ages. Mind if I leave the suite to you?”
“Not at all,” Lana replied. “Have fun.”
“Planning on it,” her assistant replied. “You kids be good – you especially, Mr. White.”
“G’night Miss Kay!” the twins called, and Richard waved to her. The next moment, King Kong appeared on the screen in all his badly-animated glory, and the twins returned their rapt attention to the television.
“Daddy Clark could beat up King Kong,” Kala said after a while, watching the ape fight a pterodactyl.
“Oh, yeah,” Richard agreed. “The monkey wouldn’t have a chance against Superman. I mean, c’mon. Super-speed and super-strength? Kong would bite the dust. Not to mention heat-vision. Flash-fried Kong in three seconds flat.” The twins giggled.
“I cannot believe I’m overhearing this,” Lana said, pulling the chair toward them. “I also can’t believe I’m sitting down to watch a movie made before any of us were born.”
“Sit with us,” Kala said pleadingly, and Jason echoed her.
Richard grinned and slid further over. “There’s room.”
Three sets of pleading gazes were too much to resist. Rolling her eyes at Richard, Lana joined the three on the couch. Jason was leaning against Richard, but Kala nonchalantly climbed into the redhead’s lap, the top of her head nestled under Lana’s chin. Hugging the little girl, Lana was surprised to realize how quickly she was coming to adore the twins. Going from occasionally envying their mother when she saw them to cuddling them had taken so little time, and happened so naturally. She glanced over at Richard with a soft smile, and he reached out to catch a lock of her hair and twine it around his fingers affectionately.
“Godzilla could beat King Kong, too,” Jason said after a moment.
“Yeah, he breathes fire,” Richard replied. “The lizard breath isn’t as quick as Superman’s heat vision, though, so it’d take longer. Barbecued monkey instead of fried.”
That made Jason giggle again, and for the rest of the movie he and Richard kept speculating on which movie monsters would win in a pitched battle against Superman, Godzilla, or King Kong. By the time the movie was halfway over, they had gotten to, “Kong and the giant spiders against Godzilla” and Kala was getting very sleepy.
Lana, too, was feeling tired. She could blame the time change – it was past midnight in Milan, if only eight thirty in Metropolis. Kala yawned, and then tilted her head back to look at Lana with sleepy hazel eyes. “Miss Lana?”
The redhead smiled adoringly; this little girl was so beautiful, it was impossible not to want to hug her and cuddle her. “Yes, sweetie?”
“If you an’ Daddy get married…” Kala trailed off as another yawn assaulted her, but she stifled that one, her nose wrinkling and her eyes closing as she turned it into a long sigh instead. Then she continued, “…an’ if you have a baby, can I have a li’l sister? Cuz boys are kinda dumb sometimes.”
Lana blinked at her in shock as Jason protested, “Girls are dumb too. Tea parties. Blah. Who wants t’ go to a tea party where there’s no real tea? And lotsa bears?”
Richard chuckled at the offended look on Jason’s face, and said, “But if there are girls at those parties… Wait ten years, son. You’ll understand.” He glanced up at Lana, catching her dumbfounded look and grinning at her.
She caught the hint of a wicked smile in his expression, and looked back at Kala seriously. “Well, if I decide to marry your Daddy – if he ever asks me, properly – I’ll keep that in mind. But it’s not really my choice to make. It’s the man who decides whether the baby will be a boy or a girl.”
His jaw dropping slightly, Richard gave her an incredulous look. He was saved from any questions about the birds and the bees by Jason muttering grumpily, “Wanna brother. We got ‘nough girls around here.”
“We’ll see what we can do about a sister for Kala,” Richard replied smoothly. “Jason, you’ll have to ask Mommy and Daddy Clark for a brother.”
“Uncle Perry said she had a n’operashun,” Jason replied, looking at him curiously. “Mommy can’t have any more babies but us.”
“If she really wants to, she can have another operation so she can have babies again,” Richard told him, smirking as he thought, Okay, Lois, let’s see what you do with this.
“That’s cruel,” Lana hissed, whapping his shoulder. “She’s going to kill you when they start asking her to have surgery.”
“Nah, you’ll protect me,” Richard replied.
“Jerk,” the redhead muttered. As Kala yawned again, hugely, Lana hugged her and added, “I think it’s time for me and the girl-child to get some sleep. We ladies know better than to stay up all night watching television like you boys.” She leaned over to kiss Jason on the forehead, making him giggle, and then picked Kala up as she stood up from the couch.
“Yeah,” Kala said sleepily, going limp. “Goin’ bed. ‘Night, Daddy.”
“Good night, princess,” Richard said. Lana leaned down so he could kiss her, and he added to the redhead, “They won’t sleep apart. You’ll have to put her in my room.”
“That’s fine,” Lana said. Richard half-listened as she got Kala into her pajamas and coaxed her through brushing her teeth and washing her face. Then it grew quiet except for King Kong trashing New York. Jason sniffled a bit when the big ape died at the end, but by then he was too tired to empathize with the monster.
“You ready for bed, kiddo?” Richard asked, glancing at the clock. Ten minutes after nine – well, what Lois didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. It was only a few minutes anyway; it shouldn’t have required an act of Congress to finish the movie.
“Uh-huh,” Jason said, rubbing his eyes. Richard shepherded him through the same nighttime routine Kala had followed. But when they reached the bedroom that had been set aside as Richard’s, they found a surprise.
Kala was curled up under the covers, little more than her hair showing. Beside her, still dressed and stretched out atop the comforter, was Lana. Richard felt his heart skip a beat even as those lovely green eyes opened and met his gaze with an amused look. “She didn’t want to be alone,” Lana explained as she sat up. Jason toddled past her with a muttered good night and climbed into bed, Kala rolling over to snuggle with him. In moments the twins looked like one organism, a tangle of sleepy limbs and Kala’s dark hair everywhere.
“How do they sleep like that?” Lana asked softly. “Can they breathe?”
“They’ll be fine,” Richard murmured, turning the bedside lamp on its lowest setting. “They thrive on it – they’ve never really been apart. They have separate beds in the same room at home, but whenever they have a nightmare or go somewhere new they have to be together.”
That left the two of them standing in a bedroom together, albeit one presently occupied by two unconscious kids. However, Richard and Lana were both aware of her room in the suite… She went into his arms easily, running her fingers through his hair as she kissed him, and Richard hugged her tightly. The kiss, though very sweet, spoke more of leave-taking than passion, and he wasn’t surprised when Lana drew back slightly to whisper, “Good night, Richard.”
“Walk you to your room, Ms. Lang?” he asked playfully, nuzzling his nose against her cheek.
“Who could refuse such gallantry?” she replied with a chuckle.
With one last glance to make sure the twins were all right for a couple minutes, Richard walked back through the living room with Lana. At her door, however, he paused. “You know, ever since that night in Milan, you’ve been a lot more relaxed around me,” he said, pausing while she kissed his cheek. “And a lot more affectionate, too.”
“Well, you proved I could trust you,” she whispered. “You might not share my beliefs, but you showed that you’re willing to respect them. I don’t have to be so careful now.”
Richard smiled slowly, stroking her long auburn hair. He had always somehow known the moment in a relationship when he could take things further, and on that balcony in Milan had been such a moment. “Thank you for your trust,” he whispered back, but the gleam in his eyes turned wicked. “Oh, I would’ve loved to make good on everything I whispered to you then. But not when you’d been drinking. I won’t take advantage of you – that’s not how I want it to be between us.”
“Good,” she purred, kissing the curve of his jaw. Standing on tiptoe to do it, Lana whispered softly into his ear, “Because the champagne didn’t have much to do with it.” While Richard held his breath, not quite able to process what he’d just heard, Lana kissed him again, her lips barely brushing his neck. Her warm breath against his skin made Richard inhale sharply. “And I love you all the more for not taking that advantage.”
With that she was gone, a swirl of red hair and smoldering eyes as she escaped his presence and closed the door between them. Richard leaned against the wall, still feeling the press of her lips against his neck, images flickering across his mind that made him almost – almost – regret having done the right thing that night on the balcony. I think I’ll have a shower before bed, he thought with a sigh. A cold shower.